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Getting wise on modern technology, process architecture and methods needed for SAP S/4 HANA

David Lowson

In an earlier blog, I talked about the challenges I foresee in staffing future SAP S/4HANA projects, especially considering that the volume of work could increase three-fold in the next couple of years. This brings us to the question of the sort of people that would be needed to deliver these SAP S/4HANA projects, and the skills required to implement them.

If we assume that the implementation will result in strong business benefits and elements of transformation and that the architecture required will be quite different – far more standard in the core and more of a business platform than an ERP one, then do we need a different set of skills than those currently available?

If SAP experts who led the big wave of initial deployment of SAP in the ’90s and early 2000s take initiative in implementing the SAP S/4HANA projects, then they will have to do so differently to achieve better results. So the question here is, will the team that currently supports the SAP footprint be able to unlearn some of the elements and approaches that have led SAP to be seen as a less exciting prospect than some other ‘digital’ products? And, if the existing team is the correct team, then what skill sets do they need?

We need to stop relying on historical ways of approaching SAP. Even though some core elements, such as finance, supply chain, project management hard work and a sense of humor,  remain true, with the new technologies available and the requirement for more interoperability with point solutions and SaaS solutions, the way we think about business process delivery and customer experience requires new approaches.

In fact, there’s a need to revamp roles by maybe adding some new ones and removing a few old ones. From a technical viewpoint there’s a need for a lot of changes:

  • Handling APIs, (see Tim Fisher’s blog) and potentially a far more complex integration landscape will need hybrid integration skills
  • Designing APIs that may or may not be based on the SAP definition of an object (e.g. customer)
  • Need for RPA experience and exposure
  • Machine learning  skills with languages such as python
  • Chatbot on NLP (natural language programming) and programming skills for “non-keyboard” interaction i.e. for setting up the Copilot or Recast artificial intelligence chatbots, or Alexa
  • Need for designing human-centric interfaces, which would mean design thinking,  and Javascript to build a system that has easy interactions through Fiori or Alexa/Cortana, etc.
  • “New-ABAP”, which is ABAP in the cloud and through eclipse to build extensions on top of the SAP S/4HANA core system
  • More business skill and industry knowledge from our consultants to deliver value on top of the SAP S/4HANA system
  • AI and Big data, how will the SAP solution process and analyze all the new data points that are being made available. And how will so leverage all this in your organization to really make better decisions?

From an SAP architects point of view:

  • Understand how to design an API led design
  • Understand how to develop SAP custom code in SAP Cloud Platform
  • Be able to design solutions that go across SAP S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform, e.g. using machine learning on the data in SAP S/4HANA and other sources
  • Understand how to do DevOps across SAP.

From a developer’s point of view one needs to understand:

  • Developers need to have knowledge of platforms such as Eclipse and Github and automated testing tools such as Jenkins
  • They need to learn how to use SAP Cloud Platform
  • They also need to start developing SCP(SAP cloud platform)  and use APIs instead of all ABAP.

From a functional point of view as well as core SAP S/4 HANA skills one needs to understand:

  • Design thinking to really understand the business problem
  • Understanding new ways to deliver (agile, DT)
  • Being able to do a functional design across S/4HANA and SCP). An understanding of the possibilities around automation/RPA (which should include UIPath, Blueprism, Contextor) and how these can be identified and embedded in business processes
  • Following on from this, the same is true for AI and ML: What is available in SAP standard, how can these be enhanced/developed further, how these technologies can be embedded in the business process. There is no point in understanding the standard process, or the AI and ML components, we will need a new type of hybrid SAP practitioner.

Functional Consultants will need a  closer working with data/analytics colleagues and awareness of

  • Positioning of BW/4HANA
  • Capabilities of predictive analytics
  • Embedded analytics; how far can we go and what the split is between embedded and an EDW (Enterprise data warehouse) and live connection through the SAC (SAP analytics Cloud)
  • Visualisation tooling; SAC vs Tableau vs PowerBI etc
  • Blockchain scenarios and integration with SAP S/4HANA .

The basis/infrastructure/cloud team

  • Design a landscape in any cloud solution (AWS, Azure, GCP, Virtustream etc)
  • Design and implement the SAP Cloud Platform system
  • Create deployment strategies across the landscape (both SAP S/4HANA and SAP Cloud Platform)
  • Automate as much as possible (e.g. frequent system copies etc).

Engagement managers who know how to deliver in the hybrid cloud with mixed methodologies for different components that include agile and DevOps need to have the following skill sets:

  • Driving the solution to standard and a fit-gap approach rather than driving to a set of requirements
  • Scrum Masters who are far more hands-on than the traditional EM’s and PM’s from waterfall days
  • They cannot stand behind a plan but need to be working more closely with the team and the client so better interpersonal skills are a must.

A contract manager will need these skills:

  • Contracts will not be entirely driven by milestones, from a waterfall methodology, if we can not contract for a new style of delivery it is unlikely to happen
  • That you are not building to a fixed set of requirements
  • And all team members need to be signed up to a disciplined approach that keeps the core stable and aligns with the architectural principals for the project
  • Our customers are resetting their entire business models due to the massive technology adjustments they are thinking digitally the SAP teams need to as well.

Our team understands the challenges ahead. We are already training people in new skills and developing and delivering a curriculum for our SAP team across the globes to ensure we maintain a high level of certification that delivers on the promises we make.

To understand how we are developing our SAP skill set and getting ready for the challenges to help our clients better, please connect with me on social media.

I would like to thank Alex Bulat, Gavin McCainsh, Alex Bennell, Mark Sampson, Paul Tomlinson in helping me pull this together and correct my misunderstanding of modern technology, process architecture, and methods.